Why We Are Ready to Boot the SRC

By Progressive Philly Rising

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Joel Mathis in his piece “Are We Ready to Boot the SRC” asks some important questions of those who are calling for a yes vote on a non-binding ballot question that calls for just that. Progressive Philly Rising is a supporter of this measure and helped collect petition signatures to get it on the ballot. We welcome discussion of the issues raised by Joel and offer this response.

From our standpoint the question is fundamentally about equity and democratic rights.   In terms of school governance Philadelphia stands in a colonial relationship with the state.   State control denies Philadelphians a voice in determining school policy, a voice that virtually every other community in the state has by means of an elected school board.

In our view it is not an accident that Philadelphia, a city in which the majority of residents are people of color, is viewed by Harrisburg as unfit for self rule, at least as far as its schools go. Resistance to funding our schools, which is what led to the state takeover in the first place, draws on racial stereotypes about our school children and their families.   Many, if not most, legislators see Philadelphia, to quote Dr. Hite, as a “cesspool” where investment of state dollars will be wasted.

The state takeover was prompted, not by fiscal mismanagement, but by the backlash Superintendent David Hornbeck generated by charging the state with systematically underfunding the District which he characterized as racism.   The imposition of state control was and is a denial of basic democracy and a continuation of institutional racism.  The referendum is an opportunity to affirm democratic principle.

Having said all that, the three questions are important and deserve to be answered. Let’s take them up one at a time.

What’s your replacement?   The abolition of the SRC would open the way for a full blown discussion of what should replace it, with all the options on the table. PPR favors an elected school board with full taxing authority.   We believe an elected board would be more accountable and lead to a more robust, political engagement with the issues.   Revenue raising authority is best vested in those people who are focused exclusively on schools, unlike Council which has to deal with the whole range of city concerns.

An elected board could be created by an act of the legislature, either at the same time ACT 46 is repealed or later. The legislature could also repeal ACT 46 and allow governance to return to the Mayoral appointed Board as dictated by the City Charter.   The path would then be to amend the Charter to create an elected board with taxing authority.

Both the SRC and a Mayoral Board have served to keep school governance in the hands of elites and marginalized community voices.   An elected board is the best opportunity for the people who are currently locked out to gain real power.

How are you going to pay for schools? First, there must be a continuing focus on getting the state to adopt a fair funding formula and raise more revenue by taxing shale and closing corporate loopholes. This is a fight Philadelphia must wage in alliance with other cities, poor rural communities and inner ring suburbs, all of whom are hurt by current state policy.

Abolishing the SRC will not, by itself, effect state funding in any way. But an elected board would be a far more effective advocate then the SRC, which naturally does not challenge the people who appointed them.

In terms of city finances an elected board with its own taxing authority could find new revenue by abolishing tax abatements on the school property tax, seek PILOTs from mega non profits and implement its own initiatives to go after tax delinquents.

Savings for schools could also be found by a more transparent, critical review of contracts, historically a place where money has been wasted or used to reward favored companies with connections in the administration.

How are you going to make it work?   While we strongly believe democratic governance will make a difference in the performance of our schools, it’s no panacea. Joel Mathis is right that “poverty makes a difference.”   That’s why the fight for quality education is bound up with the struggle for economic and racial justice.   Schools are important institutions but they cannot, by themselves, end poverty and the whole range of problems associated with it.

We do need metrics for measuring progress.   A democratic system of governance can make sure those metrics are authentic and that there is real transparency and accountability.   Parents, educators and the broader community need to be engaged in assessing school progress and coming up with real solutions.

If the local control campaign does nothing else, it has been successful in getting a broad based discussion about our school governance underway.   A big yes vote on the ballot question in May will undoubtedly move this discussion forward and lead to more concrete steps.

Read more at http://www.phillymag.com/news/2014/09/22/3-questions-dissolving-src/#0zfFW1j8FQwxIfqb.99

John Hanger responds to Thursday’s City Council vote to accept the $45 million.

PA Gubernatorial Candidate, John Hanger echoes the testimony of PCAPS Coalition Coordinator, Jihad Seifullah, calling it wrong to use $10 million dollars for Charter Schools rather than neighborhood Public Schools.

“My top issue is Education and specifically stopping the privatization of Pennsylvania’s Public schools”

For more on PCAPS Testimony -check out the below link.

http://wearepcaps.org/2013/10/31/pcaps-says-use-the-45-million-to-restore-staff-and-services-at-neighborhood-schools/

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PCAPS Says Use the $45 million To Restore Staff and Services at Neighborhood Schools

PCAPS pushes back against the privatization agenda!

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PCAPS coordinator Jihad Seifullah testifying in City Council today 

My name is Jihad Seifullah. I’m the Coalition Coordinator for PCAPS (Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools) and I’m here today to give testimony. For the last 7 weeks PCAPS has been around the city at more than 50 schools hearing from parents, teachers, and students. The over arching theme that we are hearing is this: 45 million is a start but it clearly is not enough. Now that we have the $45 million we need to put it where it’s needed and does the most good.

Superintendent Hite indicated last week that he intends to funnel $10 million of the $45 million into charter schools. The $45 million was intended to help neighborhood public schools. As a result of the budget shortfall – 24 neighborhood public schools were closed. Thousands of teachers and support staff were laid off from neighborhood…

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Would a Governor Allyson Schwartz STOP the privatization of Public Education?

An open letter to the Philadelphia Public Education Struggle

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This is a critical question – not just for the fate of Public Education in Pennsylvania, but also for our ability to defeat Corbett at all.  Governor Corbett has record low approval ratings and is considered one of the most vulnerable Governor’s in the whole country.  Why?  Far and away the main reason he isn’t popular is because he cut $1 billion from the state education budget.  It was the latest in a long line of blows to Public Ed and part of a deliberate effort to privatize education.  The drastic cuts have devastated schools both in Philadelphia and state wide.

Corbett’s cuts to education have produced a combination of outrage and clarity. In response, a movement to save Public Education has emerged.  Long-time activists have been joined by new parents and students activated by the fear of losing their fundamental right to an equitable education.  Importantly, this movement has united leaders and organization that sometimes have differences. This unity has produced actions, civil disobedience, hunger fasts, and protests numbering in the tens of thousands.

This is a movement that headed into the Governor’s race will either realize its power and thus define the terms of the Gubernatorial election or will fall into tired patterns of short-term, overly-cautious pragmatic thinking.  So what would the Democratic frontrunner Allyson Schwartz do for Public Education?  And is her commitment to Public Education so genuine and substantive that she can lead the Public Education Movement’s effort to defeat Governor Corbett?

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The neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party and its record

It has been Democrats – not just Republicans who have attacked Public Education.  In fact sometimes it has been Democrats who despite support from Labor Unions attacked Public Education, against working-class interests.  Democratic D.C Mayor Adrian Fenty is an example.  Labor supported him.  He in turn appointed Michelle Rhee who has been an outspoken leader of the “Education Reform” movement that represents a lethal threat to Public Education and Labor Unions.  We need a Democratic Party that is principled, progressive, champions the interests of the working-class, and fights for high quality Public Education for all.  The Corbett Administration and its right-wing governance represent the primary enemy to high quality Public Education.  But voting for Democrats doesn’t necessarily constitute a choice to stand for robust Public infrastructure or to defend Public Education.

We can learn a valuable lesson from looking at the experience of Unionists and Progressives in Wisconsin.  There, with collective bargaining rights for public workers on the line, they built a multi-racial, cross-sector movement that occupied the State House.  Social movement activists, from as far away as Egypt, took notice and sent messages of solidarity.

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However, rather than recognizing the incredible energy in the streets and the real potential to substantively shift the balance of power, some Union and Democratic Party leaders funneled the energy narrowly into an electoral effort: the recall election of Scott Walker.  If the movement had been supported in growing and escalating on many fronts and the recall had been just one outgrowth of the movement’s energy, it would have resulted in Scott Walker being defeated as one step towards rebuilding a mighty mighty labor movement.  Instead the process of turning the movement into a wholly electoral effort involved suppressing the creative energy and militancy of rank and file workers and rank and file Democrats It was disempowering and the top-down shift to a narrow electoral focus dissipated the movement’s energy.

As a result, Tom Barrett was nominated – a conservative and relatively anti-labor Democrat.  His nomination meant the movement no longer had the contrast between parties.  His nomination undermined the moral clarity and the strategic clarity of purpose.  Once, it felt again to the majority of people like politics as usual, they didn’t want to be involved.  Union organizers who themselves were frustrated with Barrett’s nomination, tried to knock on doors with discipline.  But they often couldn’t convince even pro-union community members to put Barrett signs in their lawn.  The movement further deflated, and the subsequent defeat of the recall effort constituted a deathblow to the movement.

Allyson Schwartz, Public Education, & Moral and Strategic Clarity

Right now in Pennsylvania, Public Education is on the line, and we are headed towards the Gubernatorial election.  Will we make the mistake our sisters and brothers in Wisconsin did and go “safe” and evaluate “who has the best chance of winning?” as if that question is the same in moments of broad outrage as it is in static times?

Allyson Schwartz’s campaign recently released a statement and plan saying she would champion Public Education. However most notable is what she did not say.

Her silence on Unions.  Her silence on Philly regaining local control.  Her silence on the Right-Wing’s attempt to privatize education.  Her silence on accountability standards for Charters.  Is this leadership?

Public Education is in crisis and to lead out of this crisis requires a leader who is willing to take positions of substance – ones that might make enemies.  Not a leader who puts out a position that seeks the safety of comfort and convenience even amidst the challenge and controversy faced by students, parents, and teachers.

Further, on funding, she emphasizes, “growing the economy” and “re-prioritizing the existing budget.”  By doing so she plays into the myth that the money isn’t there.  In fact, the money is there, its being hoarded by the top 1% of income earners; the money that does make it into public coffers is being reinvested in prisons across the state.

Is Allyson Swartz the leader who can galvanize the Public Education struggle in Philadelphia and across the state of Pennsylvania?  The severity to the funding cuts has made Public Education a broadly uniting issue – this hasn’t always been the case.  Is the Schwartz campaign an opportunity to take advantage of the energy and build on this unity or is a Schwartz nomination politics as usual?

Which way forward?

Amidst this Public Education crisis, Students across the city staged an unprecedented walk-out in the thousands; the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) has coalesced, unifying forces across sectors, and organized civil disobedience and protests of tens of thousands; the School Safety staff, members of UNITE HERE, led a Hunger Fast and successfully beat back layoffs; Parents United has led an effort to document over 700 voices and define as unconstitutional the conditions that the budget cuts of created for Philadelphia school children–and so much more.

This is a movement for Public Education that could determine the terms of this gubernatorial election and then determine the Governor, but we have to recognize our power.

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Let’s make this race about Public Education and let’s nominate a candidate whose policies, vision and commitment to Public Education will galvanize and grow our movement – affording us more clarity, more outrage, and ultimately more people to the polls.

In solidarity,

gary broderick
Point Breeze Organizing Committee

nancy dung nguyen

dina yarmus
Young Women’s Committee – Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW)*

penny jennewein
UPenn Student Labor Action Project (SLAP)*

*Organization listed for identification purposes only.